As it’s home to the one and only Walt Disney World, it’s easy to believe that Orlando is the Happiest Place on Earth, which is why it’s a top honeymoon destination for both couples with kids and couples who are kids (at heart, that is). The world’s most-visited entertainment resort shares Orlando with other major attractions like Sea World and Universal Orlando Resort as well as an unexpectedly large and thriving LGBT community and some fantastic weather, making Orlando a welcoming tropical paradise all year long.
The area’s friendly attitude is downright contagious, says Mikael Audebert, president of Orlando’s LGBT chamber of commerce, the Metropolitan Business Association.
“All of Central Florida has a reputation of being LGBT-friendly, mostly due to its entertainment and tourism industries,” says Audebert. “This translates into a very open-minded community, starting with employees of parks, hotels, and eateries, the first line of defense when visiting our beautiful region. We welcome diversity and celebrate it through events year-round, including Gay Days [at Disney World], Come Out With Pride Orlando, and several sporting competitions, not to mention the hundreds of conventions held in Orlando every year.”
Finding stuff to do with kids is the easy part; narrowing your options could take you several days. But adult fun can be had too, so don’t forget to plan grown-up time.
The unofficial Disney pride celebration known as Gay Days is attended each year by thousands of folks who journey to the Magic Kingdom sporting red T-shirts. Local events surrounding Gay Days 2013 (GayDays.com) will turn Orlando into the Gayest Place on Earth from May 28 through June 2. Numerous pool parties, concerts, and raucous club celebrations provide something for everyone, regardless of age. Rip Tide Orlando, at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park on Friday, May 31, will have attendees swimming in sun, surf, and shirtless guys, while the weeklong Girls in Wonderland (GirlsInWonderland.com) invites lesbians to fall down the rabbit hole with pool shindigs, dancing, and celebrity guests (including True Blood’s Jessica Clark and comic Fortune Feimster). There is plenty of nightlife at each of Orlando’s eight gay bars, including a couple of weekly women’s nights. But Orlando doesn’t limit its pride to the typical summer months or even a single weekend. The city’s annual Come Out With Pride celebration spans the entire first week of October, culminating in a family-friendly parade and festival that surrounds downtown’s beautiful Lake Eola Park. The lake’s extravagant fountain goes rainbow for the celebration, which draws upward of 100,000 attendees from the city’s vastly diverse LGBT community, complete with a parade organized by out Disney cast members.
“Come Out With Pride’s main reason for success lies in uniting an entire community to come and celebrate authenticity, whomever you are,” says Audebert, who also serves as the executive director for Come Out With Pride and Converge Orlando, the city’s LGBT convention and visitors bureau. “Gay, straight, and in between, Orlando’s Pride has embraced and modeled its celebration after the image of its community.”
Orlando’s enthusiasm is highlighted at the always-hopping LGBT nightclub Revolution. Staffed by tanned, attractive representatives of Orlando’s vibrant community, the expansive space is regularly filled to capacity with LGBT folks of all shapes, orientations, and identities. And those seeking a nostalgic, campy charm simply must visit Parliament House, the historic former Rodeway Inn that’s been a gay-owned and -operated landmark for more than 30 years, complete with affordable hotel rooms, seven bars, and a theater starring Orlando’s most colorful drag queens.
For a truly magical stay, check into the Holiday Inn Lake Buena Vista (IHG.com), at the Walt Disney World Resort. The luxurious hotel is fresh from a $35 million redesign, and the staff is friendly and helpful, but never intrusive. This Holiday Inn is similar to those of your childhood road trips only in its reasonable room rates.
In case you’ve had your fill of Disney magic, there are thrills to be found at Universal Orlando Resort (UniversalOrlando.com) and chills at Sea World (SeaworldParks.com/SeaWorld-Orlando), where the Manta roller coaster will have the kid in you shrieking with delight.